Taking To The Ocean with Bird Photographer Graham Jones



Graham, tell us about you!


My home is Papamoa Beach in the Bay of Plenty where I live with my partner Chris. Born in the UK, I immigrated as a child to New Zealand and spent my teenage years living in Northland hence my love of the ocean and the wide open spaces.


After finishing my trade as a Sparky I crossed the ditch to OZ where I spent the next 40 years living mainly in Melbourne and Phillip Island before completing the full circle and returning to New Zealand.


Surfing was my life from the time I could hitch to the beach then later, as a natural progression, I became a sailor and for the past 8 years I have been reinvented as a Sea Kayaker.


My love of photography began while I was at University in Melbourne. Moving to a city after living in the sticks to face 3 years of study was a daunting thought, so I decided to do a free photography course, brought a cheap second hand Nikon, and the rest is history.


Papamoa Beach by Graham Jones

What makes you keep picking up your camera?


I guess the attraction of photography for me has always been that I can combine creativity with all the other things I like to do. Whether I'm walking in the bush, paddling my Kayak or traveling the country… the fascination that one can capture a moment of time actually enhances all experiences.


I have always been an early riser and there is a special feeling I get when heading out the door at 5am with a camera, a couple of lenses, a tripod, and some ND filters. The anticipation of what awaits... and so often the reality is that the picture you had in your mind's eye is somewhat different: the sun is shrouded by clouds or the wind has whipped up the sea and you have only 15 minutes to recompose before the sun is too high.


Dawn Paddle at Te Puna Estuary by Graham Jones

Kayaking for a photographer is a unique experience... I feel rather special to be able to access places that no one else can get to. Living in the Bay of Plenty there is a huge inland harbour from Bowentown at the Southern end of Waihi south to the entrance of the Tauranga harbour a stretch of some 30 klms.


The beauty of paddling a kayak is it provides a very intimate view of our coastal birdlife. Kingfishers, Shags, Herons, Spoonbills, and Gannets just to name a few. I have an old Nikon D40x (my first digital) that I pack into a dry bag with a 55-300mm lens and on rare occasions when it’s like a millpond I use my Sigma 600mm. People often ask me if I worry about dropping them in the tide… but hey they're not much good sitting on a shelf at home gathering dust!


Imagine paddling your kayak along a barren length of coast and in the distance, you spot a colony of Pied Shags that are perched wings out like washing on the line. Shags are inquisitive birds so although they see you approaching, they remain. You drift closer, finally the young of the colony freak out and en-mass takes to the wing. One older bird remains perched on a log, unlike the younger birds he’s not moving. It’s just you and him…


Pied Shag by Graham Jones, F5.6, 1/500sec, ISO 400

What has been your biggest learning curve in Photography?


Getting my workflow organized properly. It sounds a bit boring but its the foundation for everything you do.


When I finish a shoot, I download and edit asap... I find that the essence of what I felt when taking the photograph is lost if I leave images hanging in limbo before I do a final edit.


I have a basic set up of 2 external drives, one cloud-based with Synology home storage that is synced together which means you can access your images anywhere in the world that has a network connection.


Another learning curve has been composition - a total art in itself. Richard Young shared with me “get it right in the camera” which has been a time saver and so much more satisfying than a heap of 'just about' shots...

Can you share some tips and tricks for bird photography with us?


Technical Tips:


  • Your lens should be a minimum of 300mm, preferably 600m.

  • Use focus settings AF/Continuous and aperture priority mode.

  • Shoot RAW.

Practical Tips:

  • Be patient, don't rush in - You need to observe for at least half an hour to see what is happening. It will take your subject some time to figure out you're not a threat and get on with its business.

  • Wear passive clothing that blends with your surroundings, leave the high viz at home and take a hat.

  • Check your weather forecast and tides - Most coastal birds (Stilts, Herons, Oyster Catchers, Kelp Gulls, and Kingfishers) feed at low tide. Surface feeders including Terns, Gannets, and Shags prefer water that's moving.


Gannet Colony Cape Kidnappers by Graham Jones


Any final words?


Photography is many things for many people with so many genres. In the commercial world of photography, one needs as much skill in editing as in pushing the shutter button. At the other end of the scale, there is the amateur photographer who has pleasure in sharing that special image that evolved with emotion and meaning to them.


British Photojournalist, Don McCullin summed it up by saying:

“Photography for me is not looking, it’s feeling. If you can’t feel what you’re looking at, then you’re never going to get others to feel anything when they look at your pictures.”

Dawn at Whitiroa by Graham Jones

Find more of Graham's work in his Excio portfolio: albums.excio.io/profile/lighthouse



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